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Scientific breakthrough lets plants grow in darkness with no sunlight

Published Jun 29th, 2022 8:01AM EDT
Image: Thompson Strawberry Farm

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Scientists have managed to make plants grow without sunlight. The process uses an artificial method of photosynthesis to let the plants grow in complete darkness. Once improved, it could allow countries without much sunlight to grow more crops. It could even allow us to grow plants in space.

Artificial photosynthesis lets plants grow without sunlight

plant growing in soil
Plants naturally rely on sunlight to create the food they need to grow. Image source: Tawanboonnak / Adobe

Photosynthesis is one of the most basic attributes that plants use to create food for themselves. Plants use this process to turn carbon dioxide, water, and energy from the Sun’s light to create food for themselves. That means crops and other plants have always needed sunlight in order to grow healthy. But, what about places where plants need to grow without sunlight? Well, scientists found a way.

The researchers published their findings in the journal Nature Food. To replace the normal means of photosynthesis, they used a two-step electrocatalytic process. This converted electricity, carbon dioxide, and water into acetate. Acetate is a primary component used in vinegar. It can also be used by plants in dark environments to grow.

The process was so effective, that the researchers believe it could be more efficient than using sunlight for some foods. They say that you’d need to combine the system with solar panels, to create a self-sustainable power system. However, once done, the system would allow for plants to grow without sunlight more effectively than ever before.

Why do we need to grow plants in darkness?

scientists made plants grow without sunlight using artificial synthesis in a lab
Artificial photosynthesis has allowed scientists to grow plants in total darkness. Image source: H_Ko / Adobe

Being able to grow plants in the dark might seem like a weird thing to push for. After all, most places on Earth get some semblance of sunlight, right? Well, not exactly.

Many places on Earth actually experience long periods of darkness. Places like Tromsø, Norway experience very small amounts of sunlight. Amounts so small that it may be difficult to grow some plants around that area.

Because of this, being able to grow plants without much light is paramount. This is especially true, too, as we push for a greater presence in our universe beyond our own planet. Scientists have already found ways to grow plants in lunar dirt.

But we still have to provide the sunlight these plants need, too. Being able to grow plants without sunlight could literally change how we feed astronauts.

It would open new doors for plant growth both on Earth and beyond our atmosphere. And, since it could be more efficient, we could provide better opportunities for countries to grow the food and crops that they need to take care of all of their citizens.

Josh Hawkins has been writing for over a decade, covering science, gaming, and tech culture. He also is a top-rated product reviewer with experience in extensively researched product comparisons, headphones, and gaming devices.

Whenever he isn’t busy writing about tech or gadgets, he can usually be found enjoying a new world in a video game, or tinkering with something on his computer.